By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
While Nomadland is mainly a character study of one woman’s attempt to survive and endure past hardships, it is also a reflection of a group of people who have given up the traditional life that once failed them. Writer/director Chloe Zhao has taken Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century and has reimagined it as a powerful and compelling fictionalized piece that rings just as true as its source material. Frances McDormand stars in the lead role and gives a performance like no other in her career. It is a film that is sure to get much attention during the awards season and McDormand’s performance is one that deserves the same amount of love and admiration.
McDormand stars as Fern, a sixty-something-year-old widow who has lost not only her husband, but the moderately comfortable life she once had to the Great Recession. Having lost both her home and job, Fern modifies her van and takes to the road in search of work. This trip serves as both an escape from the sadness and woes of her past and as a chance at survival in a new life. In her journey, Fern meets several others who have adopted this “gypsy” lifestyle and learns from their experiences and wisdom. This expedition proves to be a soul-searching experience for Fern, as she fights for own personal survival, by remaining undaunted in her quest for survival.
Chloe Zhao has made a beautifully pensive film with Nomadland. It is a movie that feels just as real and organic as the true story that inspired it. Zhao’s elemental approach is reflected beautifully by the cinematography by Joshua James Richards. The whole experience feels perfectly subtle and gives its characters and settings the perfect breathing room to thrive naturally.
Frances McDormand is an actress that has taken on various kinds of roles, but has often had a penchant for strong-willed, forces of nature and also caricaturesque, larger-than-life figures. Fern is actually an atypical role for the actress, as it requires her to exercise some restraint and show a more introverted side. McDormand sublimely performs this different kind of character for her and does so superbly. It is a role that honors and celebrates her maturity and reflects a type of beauty that transcends the physical realm. The film has an assortment of wonderful contributions from other actors, but no one else’s work can compare to what McDormand brings to this movie.
This is a film that is certain to be in the top five of many end-of-the-year lists, as it will be in mine. At this time, I am not sure if it will take the top spot, but I can definitely say that it will be a tough act to follow. Chloe Zhao also deserves much praise and admiration for her writing and direction, and I am sure her work here will not go unnoticed as well. Nomadland will be in theaters on December 4, 2020.